Saturday, December 31, 2011

UK: Newt on the decline after negative attacks

The Guardian

Iowa GOP caucus 2012: Negative attacks drag down Newt Gingrich

Mitt Romney rides high in Iowa while Newt Gingrich slumps in the final days before GOP presidential caucuses
By Richard Adams

With four days to go: the latest opinion polls show a dramatic slump in Newt Gingrich's popularity among Iowa's Republican voters as the avalanche of ads attacking the former Speaker of the House's track record dominate the state's airwaves.

The latest poll shows Gingrich falling to fifth place – and confirms Mitt Romney as the front runner, just ahead of Ron Paul's outsider campaign.

Elsewhere, the campaign of Michele Bachmann struggles with falling ratings, no money and few resources, having been surpassed by Rick Santorum among social conservatives.

And in a sign that some Republicans are still not happy with the current field: a group of "rogue voters" are funding radio ads calling for Iowans to caucus for Sarah Palin.

The candidates themselves continue their high octane campaigning across Iowa, with today in some respects the last full day of campaigning available, with the New Year looming and Monday a federal holiday, before the caucuses themselves take place on Tuesday evening.

Follow all the action here live:

UK: Newt brings Palin back into politics?

PJ: Palin's national approval rating is in the low 30's and may have even dipped into the 20's. So is Gingrich so desperate, and out of touch, that he finds the need to play to those few ultra-conservative Palin supporters just to stay in the game? If he does not chose her a his VP running mate he has suggested that she should be in line for a cabinet position and that, although it has been proven that Mrs. Palin has overstated her energy experience ( and, he now suggests that she might run the department in charge of US energy supply?!

Although the US media has covered this development, internationally it is pure tabloid fodder.

The Daily Mail

Battle for the Vice Presidency: Gingrich panders to Palin and Christie stumps for Romney as GOP heavyweights fight over running mates

By Hugo Gye

As the race for the Republican presidential nomination hots up, the candidates have been dropping hints about their possible running mates.

Newt Gingrich today said he would 'certainly' consider asking Sarah Palin to join him on the ballot, while Mitt Romney was accompanied on a campaign stop this morning by Chris Christie, the popular Governor of New Jersey.

Both those GOP heavyweights were thought of as potential candidates for the top job before announcing that they did not intend to run.

Mr Christie endorsed the frontrunner Mr Romney in October, but Mrs Palin has yet to give her support to any of the candidates.

The former Governor of Alaska's endorsement has been eagerly sought by all the candidates, as it would bring the support of Mrs Palin's conservative evangelical fans.

She has spoken positively about Mr Gingrich, and his hints about picking her as his running mate could be an attempt to secure her endorsement ahead of the primaries season.

During a 'tele-townhall' event, a caller asked the former Speaker of the House whether he would consider having Mrs Palin as running mate if he was nominated.

He replied: 'She is certainly one of the people you would look at. I am a great admirer of hers, and she was a remarkable reform governor of Alaska.'

Mr Gingrich also suggested that the 2008 vice-presidential candidate could occupy a 'very important Cabinet position' if he became President, and singled out her expertise in energy policy.

He concluded by saying: 'She certainly would be on the list of one of the people we would consider.'

At a campaign event in Des Moines, Mr Romney was supported by Mr Christie, who was considered a strong candidate for the Republican nomination before ruling himself out.

The appearance suggests that the New Jerseyan is a prime contender to be picked as Mr Romney's running mate if he secures the nomination.

Mr Christie jokingly warned the crowd that if they did not cast their votes for the former Governor of Massachusetts, he would 'be back Jersey style' to enact revenge.

He also explained that one reason he was so committed to Mr Romney was thanks to the help he received from the presidential candidate when he was in his against-the-odds campaign to become Governor of New Jersey.

'There's 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey, and we haven't elected a Republican United States senator since 1972,' Mr Christie told the crowd.

'So there weren't a lot of people in 2009 who were lining up to get on a Republican's bandwagon for governor - but I will tell you, one of the people who was, was Mitt Romney.'

He added: 'He came down, he worked for me, he campaigned for me, and more than anything else he was a resource and a friend at a time when nobody in this country knew who I was, and half the people in New Jersey didn't know who I was yet.'

Mr Romney leads in polls both in Iowa and nationwide ahead of the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday.

Friday, December 30, 2011

UK: Follow the US elections in The Economist

PJ: For a complete listing of all US election news in The Economist please visit their site:

UK: Ron Paul may just win Iowa

PJ: Conspiracy theories and, once thought, crazy ideas are becoming the mainstay of the GOP. Ideas that were once pushed to the far right reaches of the party and were held there by the more moderate members of the conservative party are no longer background noises. The fringe is no longer the fringe, it is the mainstream of a party whose ambitions have not drifted but have surged toward far-right ideology.

The Economist

Ron Paul’s big moment
The obstetrician, numismatist and hater of the Fed and the UN who just might win in Iowa

PEOPLE who say that politicians are all the same may be in for a surprise next week. Heading the polls in Iowa, whose caucuses on January 3rd mark the true start of the Republican race for a presidential candidate, is a 76-year-old libertarian from Texas with a worldview so wacky and a programme so radical that he was recently discounted as a no-hoper. Even if he wins in quirky Iowa, Ron Paul will never be America’s president. But his coming this far tells you something about the mood of Republican voters. A substantial number like a man who wants to abolish the Federal Reserve, introduce a new currency to compete with the dollar, eliminate five departments of the federal government within a year, pull out of the United Nations and close all America’s foreign bases, which he likens to “an empire”.

How did such a man rise to the top of the polls? One thing to note is that his support has a ceiling: in no state do more than about a third of Republican voters favour him, though in Iowa’s crowded race that could be all he needs. Also, liking the man does not require liking his policies. During the candidates’ debates of 2011, Mr Paul won plaudits for integrity. Where slicker rivals chop, change and pander, the rumpled Mr Paul hews to his principles even when they are unpopular. Unlike Newt Gingrich, who seldom misses a chance to play on fears of Islam, Mr Paul insists on the rule of law and civil liberties and due process for all—including suspected terrorists. Unlike Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, who adore Israel and can sound impatient to bomb Iran, Mr Paul has no great love for the Jewish state, even though this hurts him with the evangelical voters of Iowa. He opposed the Iraq war from the start and wants America to shun expensive foreign entanglements that make the rest of the world resent it.

These, however, are sideshows compared to the central belief that animates Mr Paul’s politics. Born in 1935, he remembers the tail-end of the Depression and the shortages during the second world war. At five, he and his brothers were put to work helping their father run a small dairy from their basement. His job was to check that the bottles were clean. For each dirty one he spotted, he received a penny. Thus, he says in “Ending the Fed”, the book he wrote after the financial collapse of 2008, was born a fascination with numismatics. This flowered into a preoccupation with the money supply and a lifelong conviction that governments must be prevented from debasing the currency.

Not all of Mr Paul’s positions are unpopular. Like other conservatives, he defends the God-given right to keep and bear arms, “the guardian of every other right”. He is pro-life, which he believes begins at conception. He champions home-schooling. But only he combines a general dislike of the overweening federal government with a particular, obsessive hatred of what he considers the corrupt system of money at its secret heart.

Pauline conversion

In 1972, though hard at work as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, he travelled 50 miles to Houston to hear the elderly Ludwig von Mises offer an “inspiring” denunciation of socialism. Several years later he dined with Friedrich Hayek. The good doctor’s conversion to the Austrian school of economics turned him into a crusader who has come to see the operations of the Fed—indeed the entire banking system, with its reliance on paper money no longer backed by gold—as a dangerous confidence trick. The Fed has “ominous powers that Congress barely understands,” he says. “Trillions of dollars can be created and injected into the economy with no obligation by the Fed to reveal who benefits.” Though ending the Fed would take time, this is his panacea: it would end dollar depreciation, remove America’s ability to fund endless wars and stop the growth of government.

One consequence of Mr Paul’s rise in the polls has been a flurry of speculation about his true intentions. Having run for president twice before, he is not naive about politics. He has served a dozen terms in the House of Representatives, failing to find allies for his radical measures. He cannot expect actually to win the nomination, let alone become president. His real aim appears to be didactic: he wants the widest possible hearing for his ideas. And since the financial collapse of 2008, more Americans have indeed been listening. His quest for the Republican nomination that year gave him respectability and an audience he could not reach as the nominee of the Libertarian Party in 1988.

How long will Mr Paul stay in the race? Though the nomination may be out of his reach, he has dedicated supporters and the ability to raise lots of money through small donations. That could keep him going longer than most of his rivals, and perhaps give him enough delegates to shape August’s nominating convention in Tampa. Or he could run as a third-party candidate. But that would help Barack Obama, embitter a mainstream party on which he has at last made a big impact and damage his like-minded ophthalmologist son, Rand, now a Republican senator.

As Mr Gingrich has learned, rising poll numbers bring extra scrutiny. The Christmas period has revived interest in a group of newsletters published under Mr Paul’s name in the 1990s, some of which included toxic remarks about blacks and Jews. Mr Paul says that he neither wrote nor approved of those words, and that they do not reflect his opinions. That still leaves him with some explaining to do. It is true that in recent years Mr Paul has stuck to his core principles: sound money, small government, individual liberty and bringing the troops home. But the newsletters shed light on some of the unsavoury fellow-travellers he has collected on his long political road. In the end, Mr Paul’s obsession with the Fed is an anti-government conspiracy theory. And in America, anti-government conspiracy theories attract a lot of wingnuts, some of whom have never read Hayek or von Mises.

Middle East: Iran and US: a war of words

Al Jazeera

US and Iran continue war of words over Hormuz
Iran rejects US warning that it would 'not tolerate' closure by Tehran of vital oil route in row over nuclear sanctions.

A standoff between Iran and the US over Tehran's threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz to oil tankers has worsened, with warships from each side giving weight to an increasingly bellicose exchange of words.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards rejected a warning that the US military would "not tolerate" such a closure, saying they would act decisively "to protect our vital interests".

Iran said it would shut the strait if the West imposed more sanctions over its nuclear programme.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Thursday that Iran had exhibited "irrational behaviour" by threatening to close the strait.

"One can only guess that the international sanctions are beginning to feel the pinch, and that the ratcheting up of pressure, particularly on their oil sector, is pinching in a way that is causing them to lash out," she said.

The tough language came as two US warships entered a zone where the Iranian navy's ships and aircraft were in the middle of 10 days of war games designed as a show of its military capabilities.

A US navy spokeswoman said that the aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis and the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay had transited without incident on Tuesday, in a pre-planned, routine operation.

"Our interaction with the regular Iranian navy continues to be within the standards of maritime practice, well-known, routine and professional," Fifth Fleet spokeswoman Lieutenant Rebecca Rebarich said on Thursday.

The transit area was in waters east of the Strait of Hormuz, a choke point at the entrance to the Gulf through which more than a third of the world's tanker-borne oil passes.

'Not a drop'

Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned earlier this week that "not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz" if the West followed through with planned additional sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.

Admiral Habibollah Sayari, a navy commander, backed that up by saying it would be "really easy" to close the strait.

A US defence department spokesman said on Wednesday that "interference with the transit ... of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated".

But Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, told the Fars news agency on Thursday that "our response to threats is threats".

"We have no doubt about our being able to carry out defensive strategies to protect our vital interests. We will act more decisively than ever," he was quoted as saying.

"The Americans are not qualified to give us permission" to carry out military strategy, he said.

Sayari said the US aircraft carrier was monitored by Iranian forces as it passed from the Strait of Hormuz to the Gulf of Oman, state television reported, while broadcasting footage of an aircraft carrier being shadowed by an Iranian plane.

Commodore Mahmoud Mousavi, an Iranian navy spokesman, told the official IRNA news agency the US carrier went "inside the manoeuvre zone" where Iranian ships were conducting their exercises.

He added that the Iranian navy was "prepared, in accordance with international law, to confront offenders who do not respect our security perimeters during the manoeuvres".

'Routine transit'

US officials had said on Wednesday that the Stennis and its carrier strike group were moving through the Strait of Hormuz.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said the deployment was to provide air power for the war in Afghanistan.

The US, whose Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, maintains a significant naval presence in the Gulf, mostly to ensure oil traffic there is unhindered.

Iran, which is already subject to several rounds of sanctions over its nuclear programme, has repeatedly said it could target the Strait of Hormuz if attacked or its economy is strangled.

Such a move could cause havoc on world oil markets, disrupting the already fragile global economy, although analysts say the Islamic Republic is unlikely to take such drastic steps as it relies on the route for its own oil exports.

Iran's naval manoeuvres included the laying of mines and the use of aerial drones, according to Iranian media. Missiles and torpedoes were to be test-fired in the coming days.

Earlier this month, Iranian officials said a Revolutionary Guards cyber-warfare unit had hacked the controls of a US bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel reconnaissance drone and brought it down safely.

Analysts and oil market traders are watching the developing situation in and around the Strait of Hormuz carefully, fearing that an incident could begin an open confrontation between the long-time foes.

The US had proposed a military hotline between Tehran and Washington to defuse any "miscalculations" between their navies, but Iran rejected that offer in September.

Israel: Ron Paul is anti-Israel says former aide


Ron Paul is not anti-Semitic but is anti-Israel, former aide says
Republican presidential hopeful 'wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all,' says former senior aide; Paul's spokesman says former aide has zero credibility, should not be taken seriously.
By Haaretz

Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul supports calls for the abolishment of Israel as a Jewish state, and the return of it in its entirety to the Arabs, though he is not an anti-Semite, a former senior aide of the libertarian Texan congressman wrote in a blog on Monday.

“He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all,” Eric Dondero wrote in his blog on the RightWing News website. “His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the America taxpayer.”

"He sides with the Palestinians, and supports their calls for the abolishment of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs,” Dondero added.

Responding to the column, CBS News quoted Ron Paul's spokesman Jesse Benton as saying that, "Eric Dondero is a disgruntled former staffer who was fired for performance issues. "

"He has zero credibility and should not be taken seriously," Benton added.

A recent Public Policy Polling telephone survey of 597 likely Republican caucus voters in Iowa found Paul leading with 23 percent of the vote, followed by 20 percent for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and 14 percent for Gingrich, making Paul the leading candidate in the Republican race for the White House.

Paul’s views on Israel are already known to many. These views led the Republican Jewish Coalition, an organization of Jewish Republicans to exclude the Texan congressman from a debate they held in the beginning of December, explaining, "there is no reason to allow Paul to pretend he is anything but an extremist who is far outside of the mainstream, especially when it comes to issues concerning the U.S.-Israel alliance."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

UK: How the Republicans are throwing away their opportunity

PJ: The radicalization of the Republican Party in the US began decades ago with the embrace of the evangelicals as a voting block not simply a religion. About thirty years ago most in the party scoffed at the absurd notion putting anti-abortion on the party's platform. Now, decades later, today's GOP will not support any candidate who seems weak (in their mind) on the issue, going so far as to sling mountains of mud against anyone who supports free-choice, even those politicians who support abortion rights in cases of rape and incest. And the list of demands for conservatives "purity" from the evangelical base goes on...and on...and on. Since the election of Barrack Obama the hard shift to the extreme right has only intensified. Today's Republican Party is not the party of yesteryear. Today's GOP holds Ronald Reagan as a hero in name only since they would never support a candidate with even the mildest of moderate views. Of course, if Reagan were alive today, since he believed that the GOP was the party of inclusion (the Big Tent) he might never have switched his registration from Democrat to Republican in 1962.

The Economist

The right Republican
Although the presidency is theirs for the taking, America’s Republicans are in danger of throwing it away

IN JANUARY the battle to become the world’s most powerful person begins—with small groups of Iowans “caucusing” to choose a Republican nominee for the White House. It is a great opportunity for them. Barack Obama is clearly beatable. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been re-elected with unemployment as high as it is now; Mr Obama’s approval rating, which tends to translate accurately into vote-share, is down in the mid-40s. Swing states like Florida, Ohio and even Pennsylvania look well within the Republicans’ grasp.

Yet recent polls show the president leading all his rivals: an average of two points ahead of Mitt Romney, eight points over Ron Paul and nine points over Newt Gingrich, according to No doubt some rather flawed personalities play a part in that; but so does the notion that something has gone badly wrong with the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Rather than answering the call for a credible right-of-centre, pro-business party to provide independents, including this newspaper, with a choice in November, it is saddling its candidate with a set of ideas that are cranky, extreme and backward-looking.

That matters far beyond this election—and indeed America’s shores. Across the West nations are struggling to reform government. At their best the Republicans have combined a muscular foreign policy with sound economics, individualism and entrepreneurial pragmatism. It is in everybody’s interests that they become champions of such policies again. That is not impossible, but there is a lot of catching up to do.

Please sign on the dotted line

Optimists will point out that the Republicans, no less than the Democrats, tend to flirt with extremes in the primaries, then select an electable moderate (with Mr Romney being the likely winner this time). America is a conservative place; every Republican nominee, including those The Economist has backed in the past, has signed up to pretty uncompromising views on God, gays and guns. But even allowing for that, the party has been dragged further and further to the right. Gone are the days when a smiling Reagan could be forgiven for raising taxes and ignoring abortion once in office. As the Republican base has become ever more detached from the mainstream, its list of unconditional demands has become ever more stringent.

Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the “so-called Palestinians”, to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.

These fatwas explain the rum list of candidates: you either have to be an unelectable extremist who genuinely believes all this, or a dissembler prepared to tie yourself in ever more elaborate knots (the flexible Mr Romney). Several promisingly pragmatic governors, including Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, never even sought the nomination. Jon Huntsman, the closest thing to a moderate in the race (who supports gay marriage and action to combat climate change), is polling in low single figures.
Explore our interactive map and guide to the race for the Republican candidacy

More depressingly, the fatwas have stifled ideas, making the Republican Party the enemy of creative positions it once pioneered. The idea of requiring every American to carry health insurance (thus broadening the insurance pool and reducing costs) originated in the conservative Heritage Foundation as a response to Clinton-care, and was put into practice by then-Governor Romney in Massachusetts. All this Mr Romney has had to disavow, just as Mr Gingrich has had to recant his ideas on climate change, while Rick Perry is still explaining his appalling laxity as governor of Texas in allowing the children of illegal immigrants to receive subsidised college education.

On the economy, where this newspaper has often found the most common ground with the Republicans, the impact has been especially unfortunate. America’s commercial classes are fed up with a president they associate with big government, red tape and class warfare. A Republican could stake out a way to cut the deficit, reform taxes and refashion government. But instead of businesslike pragmatism, there is zealotry. The candidates have made a fetish out of never raising taxes (even when it involves getting rid of loopholes), while mostly ignoring tough decisions about cutting spending on defence or pensions. Such compassionless conservatism (slashing taxes for the rich and expenditure on the poor) comes with little thought as to which bits of government spending are useful. Investing in infrastructure, redesigning public education and maintaining unemployment benefits in the worst downturn since the Depression are hardly acts of communism.

We didn’t leave you; you left us

Elections are decided in the middle. If the Republicans choose an extreme candidate, they can hardly be surprised if independents plump for Mr Obama, or look to a third-party candidate. But there could be two better outcomes for them.

The first would be if Mr Romney secures a quick victory, defies his base and moves firmly to the centre. In theory, there is enough in his record to suggest that he may yet be the chief executive America needs, though such boldness is asking a lot of a man who still seems several vertebrae short of a backbone (John McCain, a generally braver man, flunked it in 2008). The alternative is that the primary race grinds to a stalemate, with neither Mr Romney nor one of his rivals able to secure victory. Then a Bush, Daniels or Christie just might be tempted into the contest. It is a sad commentary that this late in the day “the right Republican” does not even seem to be running yet.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

UK: Awful TV awaits: Great Expectations and Sarah Palin--You Betcha

PJ: This is a review of two programmes that will appear on BBC1 this year: Another remake of "Great Expectations" (please go to the link provided to read the section that focuses on this film) and "Sarah Palin, You Betcha!". While not enjoying Broomfield's Palin documentary, the author is enthusiastically thankful for one thing....

"Let us give praise and thanks that the film is not more urgently needed now that Palin is no longer elbowing and scratching her way to the White House. But shame on Senator McCain for dragging this barely educated and ill-mannered hellcat onto the world stage. She's like Pip abruptly hauled up the social scale, only a hundred times less prepared for the journey."

The Arts Desk

Great Expectations, BBC One / True Stories: Sarah Palin - You Betcha!, More4
Do we need another version of Dickens' most adaptable novel or another hatchet job of Alaska's infamous governor?
by Jasper Rees

What might Dickens have made of the former governor of Alaska? In Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, a film for More4's True Stories strand, she found herself portrayed from afar by another specialist in grotesques and gargoyles. Nick Broomfield travelled to Wasilla, the tight-knit snow-bound wellspring of Alaska’s most infamous export, in pursuit of an interview. Initially it all looked promising. The filmmaker managed to pin down Palin’s affable father and indeed the title refers to the cheery reply Broomfield extracted from Palin when he flew to a book signing (such as one pictured below) in Texas and, filming surreptitiously, requested the interview in person.

As in other Broomfield chases, it was initially enough to enjoy the thrill of the pursuit. But it became apparent that, despite deploying all his signature faux-naif, poker-faced trickery and charm, no interview would be happening. Armed with a megaphone, Broomfield even popped her a question from the back of a rally. As he will have expected, he was booed and thrown out. Other rabbits would need to be yanked from the hat. In a town where the Palins divisively regard anyone who is not their friend as their foe, Broomfield’s only option was to talk to those of the latter persuasion. And so they queued - former supporters and colleagues who have been banned, cast out, cold-shouldered and vilified - to vilify right back.

What emerged was a portrait of a vengeful narrow-minded ignorant evangelical incompetent bigot whose one pre-eminent skill is in street fighting. It’s not as if these broad brushstrokes aren't already known: Palin has even dealt a mortal blow to her own standing with the risible reality travelogue series Sarah Palin’s Alaska. But the fresh filigree detail supplied here was compellingly awful. Let us give praise and thanks that the film is not more urgently needed now that Palin is no longer elbowing and scratching her way to the White House. But shame on Senator McCain for dragging this barely educated and ill-mannered hellcat onto the world stage. She's like Pip abruptly hauled up the social scale, only a hundred times less prepared for the journey.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

US: The top 1% seems to include most people's elected representatives

PJ: This caught my eye and I thought you might enjoy learning a bit more about those noble "public servants" (as they love to call themselves) that represent the 99%. It appears that they are actually in the 1%. (Note: these particular one-percenters are not even in the 'job creators' category that Congress often cites.) Kind of reminds me a of the time in history when the Lords of England (probably equating to less than 1%) held power and had privilege while holding power over the masses who struggled to feed their families and pay their taxes that supported...the 1%. It also smacks of the inequality that exists in today's third world countries where the rich and powerful maintain their wealth and power largely due to privileges given them by laws and tax structure.

I must add that I am not against those individuals who provide needed and wanted services and get rich in the process. I admire people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and applaud their success. They will, rightfully, always be in the 1% and will live well as they have earned the right to do. These people, and there are many more, know that they have earned economic privilege and are working to help others do the same. Bill Gates, while at Microsoft, was indeed a 'job creator' and a creative business man. He has also shown that he is a member of the world community and wants to pay his fair share and help others where he can (see the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation:

I am however saddened by unchecked greed that contributed to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, greed that allows for the top executives to skim off the cream of earnings while refusing to expand their work force or in some cases liberally reducing that work force (take a look at the statistics: I understand that wealth can create more wealth simply because they have the means that allows them to do so but I continue to be appalled that their economic stature gives them the legal and political ability to be dismissed from contributing to the society that made them wealthy in the first place (see GE's tax contribution for 2010:

The Washington Post

Growing wealth widens distance between lawmakers and constituents

By Peter Whoriskey

BUTLER, Pa. — One day after his shift at the steel mill, Gary Myers drove home in his 10-year-old Pontiac and told his wife he was going to run for Congress.

The odds were long. At 34, ­Myers was the shift foreman at the “hot mill” of the Armco plant here. He had no political experience and little or no money, and he was a Republican in a district that tilted Democratic.

But standing in the dining room, still in his work clothes, he said he felt voters deserved a better choice.

Three years later, he won.

When Myers entered Congress, in 1975, it wasn’t nearly so unusual for a person with few assets besides a home to win and serve in Congress. Though lawmakers on Capitol Hill have long been more prosperous than other Americans, others of that time included a barber, a pipe fitter and a house painter. A handful had even organized into what was called the “Blue Collar Caucus.”

But the financial gap between Americans and their representatives in Congress has widened considerably since then, according to an analysis of financial disclosures by The Washington Post.

Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home ­equity.

Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.

The comparisons exclude home equity because it is not included in congressional reporting, and 1984 was chosen because it is the earliest year for which consistent wealth statistics are available.

The growing disparity between the representatives and the represented means that there is a greater distance between the economic experience of Americans and those of lawmakers.

“My mother and I used to joke we were like the Beverly Hillbillies when we rolled into McLean, and we really were,” said Michele ­Myers, the congressman’s daughter, now 46. “My dad was driving this awful lime-green Ford Maverick, and I bought my clothes at Kmart.”

Today, this area of Pennsylvania just north of Pittsburgh is represented in Congress by another Republican, Mike Kelly, a wealthy car dealer elected for the first time in 2010. Kelly, as it happens, grew up just a few houses down the street from the Myers family, in a larger brick home.

Kelly’s dad owned the local Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership in Butler, and Kelly, an affable former football recruit to Notre Dame, had worked there since he was a kid. Three years after graduating from college, he married Victoria Phillips, an heir to the Phillips oil fortune. He eventually bought and took control of the family car business, and today, the net worth of Kelly and his wife runs in the millions of dollars, according to financial disclosure forms.

Both men refer to their personal life experiences in explaining their political outlook.

Myers, the son of a bricklayer, had worked his way through college to a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and he looked at issues of work and security at least partly through the lens of his own experience. For example, he bucked other Republicans to vote to raise the minimum wage and favored expanding a program to aid workers affected by foreign imports. He said he understood the need for what was then called “the safety net.”

For the rest of this article please go to:

Israel: Obama and Iran


Two things are certain: the Republicans, who are now goading Obama for being soft on Iran and beating their own war drums, would reverse course in mid air with nary a blink and accuse the president of playing politics with American lives and needlessly embroiling it in a war which probably could have been avoided if he had been tough on Iran in the first place.

Will a U.S. attack on Iran become Obama’s ‘October Surprise’?
Israelis and many Americans are convinced that President Obama will ultimately back away from attacking Iran. They may be wrong.
By Chemi Shalev

“When American officials declare that all options are on the table, most Israelis do not believe them. They have concluded, rather, that when the crunch comes (and everyone thinks it will), the United States will shy away from military force and reconfigure its policy to live with a nuclear-armed Iran.”

This was the bottom line of “What Israelis Hear When Obama Officials Talk About Iran”, an article written by William Galston, a senior research fellow at Brookings, after he canvassed the Israeli participants in the recent Saban Forum held in Washington in early December.

Since that diagnosis, rendered only three weeks ago, the content, tone and intensity of American pronouncements on Iran have undergone progressively dramatic changes. These include:

• December 16: President Obama, in a speech before the Union of Reform Judaism, goes from the passive “a nuclear Iran is unacceptable” to the assertive “We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

• December 19: Secretary of Defense Panetta, hitherto the main articulator of the pitfalls of an attack on Iran, suddenly ups the ante by declaring that Iran might be only a year away from acquiring a nuclear bomb, that this the “red line” as far as the U.S. is concerned, and that Washington “will take whatever steps necessary to deal with it."

• December 20: General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells CNN that “the options we are developing are evolving to a point that they would be executable, if necessary”, adding: 'My biggest worry is that they (Iranians) will miscalculate our resolve'.

• December 21: Dennis Ross tells Israel’s Channel 10 television that President Obama would be prepared to “take a certain step” if that is what is required and “this means that when all options are on the table and if you’ve exhausted all other means, you do what is necessary".

• December 22: Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, commenting on the above statements, says that they "make clear a fact that was already known to us from closed-door (discussions). It makes clear to Iran that it faces a real dilemma."

• December 23: Matthew Kroenig, former Special Adviser on Iran at the Pentagon, publishes an article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs, entitled “Time to Attack Iran”, in which he lays out the case for an American offensive against Iran – sooner rather than later.

Israeli analysts, however, remain unconvinced. Influenced, perhaps, by their own experience with Israel’s cynical political leadership, they have ascribed much of this newly-found oomph in American utterances to an elections-inspired attempt by the Obama Administration to “show support for Israel” at a time of political need. Conversely, they maintain that the change in the American tone is a result of new intelligence information that was presented by Barak to Obama in their December 16 meeting in Washington.

Both of these assessments may or may not be true, but they fail to tell the whole story. The timing of the reinvigorated American rhetoric is undoubtedly tied to the December 18 withdrawal of the last American troops from Iraq. The U.S. Army and the Pentagon have long opposed inflammatory rhetoric toward Tehran during the withdrawal, for fear it might endanger U.S. troops in Iraq. With the withdrawal complete, the Administration felt free to adopt a much more belligerent tone, literally overnight.

As to the substance of American policy, Israelis appear to have persuaded themselves that, despite his vigorous prosecution of the war in Afghanistan and his successful and deadly pursuit of al-Qaida, Obama remains “soft” on Iran and will ultimately back down when push comes to shove. This perception has been fed by Obama’s ill-fated attempt to “engage” with Iran, his initial courtship of the Arab and Muslim world, what is widely perceived as his pro-Palestinian tendencies – and the overall animosity and prejudice directed at the president by many of his detractors.

The Republicans are so convinced, in fact, that they are basing much of their foreign policy campaign against Obama on the assumption that he will ultimately capitulate to Tehran. That may be a dangerous assumption on their part.

In his speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December 2009 – possibly forgotten because of the ridiculously premature or spectacularly misdirected awarding of the prize - Obama spoke of a "just war" which can be waged “as a last resort or in self-defense”. After warning of the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear campaign, he said “those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.”

In the days after that speech in Oslo, Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was often cited as a source of inspiration for Obama, and it was Niebuhr who wrote, “contemporary history refutes the idea that nations are drawn into war too precipitately. It proves, on the contrary, that it is the general inclination of democratic nations at least to hesitate so long before taking this fateful plunge that the dictator nations gain a fateful advantage over them.” Obama may not want to fall into that pattern.

People believe what they want to believe, but Obama has already proven - in Afghanistan, in Libya, in the offensive against al-Qaida, in the drone war in Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen – that he is no pacifist and does not shy way from using military force when necessary. And while he has stuck to his prepared script that “all options are on the table," people who have heard Obama speak about Iran in closed sessions have no doubt that if all else fails, including “crippling” sanctions and international isolation, Obama would order a U.S. attack on Iran, if he was convinced, as he appears to be, that it posed a clear and present danger to America’s national security.

And there can be no doubt - notwithstanding claims by the radical left and the isolationist right - that a nuclear Iran would be an unmitigated disaster for American interests, above and beyond the existential threat to Israel. Arab countries would be confronted by a stark choice between subservience to Tehran and the dangerous pursuit of their own nuclear prowess; Muslim extremism would flourish at a particularly precarious juncture in Arab history, compelling newly-emergent Muslim parties, especially in Egypt, to opt for extreme belligerence toward America and Israel; under a protective nuclear umbrella, Hamas and Hezbollah and others of their ilk would be able to run amok with impunity; the entire Middle East would be destabilized and America’s oil supplies held hostage by a self-confident and bellicose Iran. The standing of the U.S., after it is inevitably perceived as having lost out to the Ayatollahs, would reach an all-time low. Russia and China would gradually become the dominant powers in the region. Tehran would be free to expand and further develop its nuclear arsenal and ballistic missile capability. And Israel, America’s main ally in the region – perhaps in the world – would face a continuous mortal and ultimately paralyzing threat from an increasingly implacable enemy.

Given their doubts about Obama’s resolve to order a U.S. military attack, Israeli analysts have tended to focus on the existence, or lack thereof, of an American “green light” for an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Indeed, one of the arguments made by Kroenig in Foreign Affairs is that a U.S. attack “can also head off a possible Israeli operation against Iran, which, given Israel’s limited capability to mitigate a potential battle and inflict lasting damage, would likely result in far more devastating consequences and carry a far lower probability of success than a U.S. attack.”

But it is far from clear whether America’s acknowledged operational and logistical advantage is the most compelling argument against an Israeli attack, and whether Israel is indeed incapable of “inflicting lasting damage” on Iran. After years and years of preparation, and with the wily Barak at the helm, one should “expect the unexpected” from an Israeli attack. It would definitely not be a rerun of the 1981 bombing raid on Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, not in scope, not in intensity, not in the means of delivery and not in the yield and sophistication of the weapons that will be thrown into battle.

But there are other profound drawbacks to an Israeli attack and corresponding advantages to an American offensive. An Israeli attack would rally the Arab and Muslim world behind Iran, strengthen radical Islamists, neutralize potentially sympathetic countries as Saudi Arabia and further distance Turkey from Israel and the West. The U.S. would have no choice but to support Israel, even though such support would inflame animosity toward Washington throughout the Muslim world. An American attack, on the other hand, would restore Washington’s stature and power of deterrence in the Arab world, could unite most of the Sunni monarchies and oil Sheikdoms in tacit assistance, at the very least, for the military effort, could facilitate Turkish neutrality and enable European support, and would sideline the incendiary issue of Israel, just as it did when Jerusalem maintained a “low profile” during the first two Gulf wars. It might also decrease the intensity of a combined Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah and possibly Syrian counterattack against Israel, and would, in any case, free Israel to defend itself and to effectively deal with such an onslaught.

And yes, though hardly devoid of risks, it might very well ensure Barak Obama’s reelection next November.

To be sure, despite Republican protestations to the contrary, American voters are ambivalent about a U.S. attack on Iran. In a recent Quinnipiac University Survey, 55 per cent of voters said the U.S. should not take military action against Iran – but 50 per cent would nonetheless support it, if all else fails. And 88 per cent believe that a nuclear Iran posed a serious threat or a somewhat serious threat to American national security.

In the end, it would all come down to timing. The closer to elections that an American attack on Iran would take place, the more it would work in Obama’s favor. Though his left wing flank and possibly large chunks of the Democratic Party would not differentiate between Iraq and Iran, would draw historic parallels with the Bush Administration’s bogus evidence of Iraq’s WMD capabilities and would vehemently criticize Obama for “betraying his principles” - Obama would probably sway most independents and even moderate Republicans who would be swept up in the initial, patriotic wave of support for a campaign against a country that the Republican candidates for the presidency have described as America’s number one enemy. And Obama could point out to the American public that contrary to Iraq, no ground troops would be involved in Iran.

A significantly earlier attack, however, would be far riskier. The initial patriotic fervor might dissipate and the wider ramifications would begin to sink in, including potential Iranian retaliation against American targets, and, perhaps more significantly, the disruption of oil supplies, an unprecedented spike in oil prices and an ensuing and crippling blow to U.S. economic recovery.

If one wants to be absolutely cynical, perhaps Panetta’s one-year deadline was intentionally calibrated with this election timeline. Though there is no basis to suspect Obama of making political calculations, and without detracting from what is sure to be a serious American effort to get sanctions and possibly regime change to do the trick – October would be ideal. That’s the month that Henry Kissinger chose in 1972 to prematurely declare that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam, thus turning Richard Nixon’s certain victory over George McGovern into a landslide; that’s the month that Ronald Reagan feared Jimmy Carter would use in 1980 in order to free the Iran hostages and stop the Republican momentum; and that’s the month that many of Obama’s opponents are already jittery about, fearing the proverbial “October Surprise” that would hand Obama his second term on a platter.

Two things are certain: the Republicans, who are now goading Obama for being soft on Iran and beating their own war drums, would reverse course in mid air with nary a blink and accuse the president of playing politics with American lives and needlessly embroiling it in a war which probably could have been avoided if he had been tough on Iran in the first place.

And what about the Jewish vote? That would be Obama’s, lock, stock and barrel, including those Jewish voters who cannot forgive him for the Cairo speech, the bow to King Abdullah, the 1967 borders, the lack of chemistry with Netanyahu and that the fact that he has yet to produce evidence that he isn’t, after all, a closet Muslim.

And in Israel, no doubt about it, he would be forever revered as the ultimate Righteous Gentile.

Middle East: Video: Republican mudslinging

Al Jazeera

Republicans' mudslinging turns off voters
Negative campaigning aimed at discrediting rivals highlights divisions within the US opposition party.

Republican presidential hopefuls in the US have just over a week to impress voters in Iowa.

It will be the first state to vote for a potential candidate who will be up against Barack Obama in next year's election.

But the chase to the White House has brought out a rather vindictive side to most candidates as they vie to discredit one another in the media.

Al Jazeera's John Hendren reports from Washington DC.

For video:

UK: Uncivil politics hits the GOP presidential race

The Economist

Flirting with fratricide
A sudden departure from civility could damage the Republicans in 2012

THEY call it Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: never speak ill of a fellow Republican. For much of 2011 Republican contenders for the presidential nomination tried to keep the commandment at least half in mind. During the long sequence of televised debates they have made sure to smile and smile, even while shooting villainous little darts at one another. In mid-December, however, after Newt Gingrich sped ahead of Mitt Romney to become the front-runner, the darts turned into bullets. Each man is now doing his best to shoot gaping holes in the other’s reputation. For the embattled presidency of Barack Obama, this is Christmas come early.

In theory, primaries are all the better for being feisty affairs. The party will in due course unite around a hardened winner whom the primaries have tested along the way. But it can be hard to tell when a feisty primary is in danger of turning voters off all the candidates, to the benefit of the other side.

This is a danger Mr Gingrich in particular has talked about from the start. He says frequently that any of the Republican candidates would be a better president than Mr Obama. He accuses the media of fanning artificial discord. And on December 13th, after one especially bitter rally of insults with Mr Romney, it was Mr Gingrich who tried to call a truce. He sent a letter to supporters and staff calling it “critical” for a Republican nominee to emerge unbloodied, the better to take on Mr Obama from a position of strength. For his part, he would eschew negative ads and run a “respectful and constructive” campaign, though reserving his right to respond when his record was “distorted”.

A fine sentiment. But it may be no coincidence that it is Mr Gingrich who seems keenest to avoid negative campaigning. With his adulteries, flip-flops and the fortune he made by peddling influence in Washington, DC, the city that in Republican eyes has morphed from a mere capital into a modern Gomorrah, the former Speaker makes a juicy target. Mr Gingrich could be ignored when he was an also-ran, but now that he is rising it has become imperative for Mr Romney to knock him back before he does well not only in first-voting Iowa but also a week later on January 10th in New Hampshire, which Mr Romney had until recently seen as his “firebreak” against a rival with momentum.

On December 12th Mr Romney bowed to this imperative by calling on Mr Gingrich to return the $1.6m in fees he collected from Freddie Mac, the government-supported mortgage company he later excoriated for pumping up the bubble that helped cause the financial collapse of 2008. Mr Romney’s people note that although Mr Gingrich demanded that Mr Obama should return his 2008 campaign donations from Freddie Mac, he refrained from criticising the organisation until his own lucrative contract with it was over. They call him “an unreliable leader” who went to Washington to do good but “stayed to do well”. Before proposing his truce, Mr Gingrich fired back by saying that he would listen to Mr Romney if the former venture capitalist gave back “all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain”.

With friends like these

Mr Romney paints Mr Gingrich as a hypocrite who talks about small government but has grown rich by milking the taxpayer. Mr Gingrich paints Mr Romney as a heartless plutocrat. Even the professorial Ron Paul, the indefatigable libertarian from Texas, has abandoned his avuncular pose and decided that this is the time to slash at the Gingrich jugular. Vicious ads by Mr Paul are running in Iowa, where he has a strong organisation and an avid following, blast Mr Gingrich’s “serial hypocrisy” and denounce him as “a career politician” who “sold access” in Washington. The ads brim with incriminating footage: Mr Gingrich sitting alongside the Democrats’ hated Nancy Pelosi, warning of the dangers of climate change; the tribune of the people bragging about his speaking fees of $60,000 a pop. A voice-over recalls that Mr Gingrich once supported the individual health mandate (compulsory medical insurance), the big idea at the centre of “Obamacare”, which Mr Romney also embraced when he was governor of Massachusetts but which is now Exhibit One in the Republican charge that Mr Obama is a socialist.

Are such attacks still just “feisty”, or might they damage the whole Republican brand in 2012? The party is not yet remotely as divided as it was in 1964, when its moderate wing refused to rally around Barry Goldwater when he became the nominee. It is worth remembering that the smears that soured the South Carolina primary fight between George Bush and John McCain in 2000 did not stop the Republicans from squeaking to victory in the end. Moreover, the Democrats still face an uphill struggle. A USA Today/Gallup poll from a dozen swing states shows that despite the recent uptick in the economy Mr Obama is trailing Mr Romney by 43% to 48% and even the baggage-laden Mr Gingrich by 45% to 48%. The proportion of voters who call themselves Democrats or Democratic-leaning in these states has fallen by 4% since 2008, while the Republicans have gained 5%.

That said, Mr Obama has the luxury of knowing that the Republicans are his only enemy, whereas it is hard to see how Jim Messina and David Axelrod, the strategists plotting the president’s re-election from his campaign headquarters in Chicago, could invent more hurtful attacks than those the Republican candidates have started to fling at themselves. And it could get worse. Until recently, Mr Romney looked set to clinch a victory early, leaving ample time for him to train his fire on Mr Obama. Now it looks as though the Republicans might be in for a longer and more divisive primary campaign, with a less certain outcome. They need someone to be standing at the end of it.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays!

PJ: We'll be back on the 27th.

Israel: Uh-Oh...Trump leaves the GOP


Trump leaves U.S. Republican party, leaving open potential third-party run
Donald Trump changes his voter registration to independent in New York; move comes 10 days after Trump announced he would not moderate a planned Republican debate.
By Reuters

Businessman and reality TV personality Donald Trump has left the Republican Party,
changing his voter registration to independent in his home state of New York, in a move that could facilitate a potential third-party presidential run in 2012, U.S. media reported on Friday.

The move was disclosed 10 days after the real estate mogul announced he would not moderate a planned debate among 2012 Republican presidential candidates in order to protect a possible White House run as an independent. All but two candidates declined to participate in Trump's planned Dec. 27 forum in Iowa.

"Mr. Trump has said for almost a year that if he is not satisfied with who the Republican candidate is, he may elect to run as an independent," Trump spokesman Michael Cohen said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "This change in party affiliation certainly preserves his right to do so, after the finale of 'The Apprentice' in May."

"The Apprentice" is the reality TV competition show that Trump hosts on NBC. The U.S. presidential election is in November 2012.

Trump this year flirted with a run for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination and was derided for pushing a discredited charge that President Barack Obama, a Democrat
seeking re-election next year, might not have been born in the United States.

Trump never mounted an actual campaign and critics suggested it was all self-promotion.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Representatives Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann had said they would not attend the planned Trump-moderated debate. Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator Rick Santorum had agreed to take part.

A presidential run by Trump holds the potential of undermining the Republicans' quest to deny Obama a second four-year term as president.

Middle East: Opinion: An invented people

Al Jazeera


The real 'invented' people
Newt Gingrich's controversial statement begs the question: Who invented a nationality? The Palestinians or the Israelis?
By M.J. Rosenberg

It is hard to believe that anyone who defends Israel's legitimacy as a state would buy into former Speaker Newt Gingrich's argument that Palestine is an "invented nation".

The singular triumph of the Zionist movement is that it invented a state and a people - Israel and the Israelis - from scratch. The first Hebrew-speaking child in 1900 years, Ittamar Ben-Avi, was not born until 1882. His father, the brilliant linguist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, created a modern language for him to speak by improvising from the language of the Bible.

The founder of the Israeli state was Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), an assimilated Viennese writer who was convinced by the Dreyfus trial in France - and the horrendous right-wing anti-Semitism that resulted from it - that Jews had to get out of Europe.

In 1897, he wrote the book that would essentially inaugurate the Zionist movement. It was called Der Judenstaat (meaning "the Jews' state" or "the Jewish State"), which was his proposal for moving the Jews out of Europe and into their own country.

He didn't specify where the Jewish homeland should be. He was more concerned about quickly obtaining territory anywhere for Jews to seek refuge.

Later, he decided that Palestine made the most sense because that was where the Jewish people both began and exercised self-determination in ancient times, and where there already was a small minority of Jews. But he also spoke of finding a place in Africa or the Americas if Palestine was unavailable.

The reaction to Herzl's idea was primarily that he was a bit crazy. Jews committed to assimilation insisted that Jews were not a nation, but a religious faith. Their nationalities were French, German, Polish, Iraqi or American - not some imaginary Jewish nationality that had not existed for 1900 years.

100 years ago: 'just an idea'

As late as 1943, during the worst days of the Holocaust, the American Jewish Committee - which adhered to the assimilationist view - resigned from the body created by American Jews to respond to the Nazi catastrophe over its "demand for the eventual establishment of a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine".

Seventy-plus years later, it is impossible to argue that the Israeli nation is not as authentic and worthy of recognition as any in the world (more authentic than some, in fact).

The Hebrew language is spoken by millions of Jews and Palestinians. The Israeli culture is unique: Bearing little resemblance to any other in the world. In fact, diaspora Jews have as little in common with Israelis as African-Americans have with Africans.

Israelis are not just Jews who happen to live in Palestine, even though the concept of Israel-ness started just over a hundred years ago as nothing but an idea. They are Israelis, entitled to self-determination, peace and security in their own land.

And the Palestinians are every bit as much a nation. If the ultimate definition of authentic nationhood is continuous residence in a land for thousands of years, the Palestinian claim to nationhood is ironclad.
They never left Palestine (except for those who either emigrated or became refugees after the establishment of Israel).

Those who deny that Palestinians have a nation base their case on two arguments, both of which are logically incoherent. The first is that Palestinians never exercised self-determination in Palestine; they were always governed by others from ancient times to the present day.

The answer to this is: So what?

What makes a people real?

Most nations in the world lacked self-determination for long periods of their history. The Polish nation existed between 1790 and 1918 even though the state was erased from the map - divided between Russia and Austro-Hungary. It achieved independence in 1918 only to again lose it to the Nazis, and then the Soviets from 1939 until 1989. Would anyone today argue that the Polish nation was invented?

The idea of it is ridiculous, especially when offered by Israelis or Americans (or Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians... ) whose national existence would have been unimaginable a few centuries ago.

The second argument is that Palestinians never thought of themselves as Palestinians until Jews started moving into their territory, that Palestinian nationalism is a response to Zionism.

Again, so what?

When European Jews docked in Jaffa, Palestine in the early immigration waves of the late 19th century, there were Arabs waiting at the port. When the Jews purchased land, it was Arabs who had to move out.

And if those Arabs didn't call themselves Palestinians until the Zionist movement began, neither did the Jews call themselves Israelis. Until 1948, they were just Jews.
But each of the two peoples knew who they were and who the other was.

The bottom line is that today, the Palestinian nation is as authentic as the Israeli nation - and vice versa. Those who think either is going away are blinded by hatred.

To put it simply, the first part of the phrase self-determination is the word self. Both nations have the absolute right to define themselves as two nations which, hopefully, will evolve into two states. The alternative is national catastrophe not for one nation, but for two.

But why would Newt Gingrich care about that?

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

UK: "Nastygrams" draw complaints

The Independent

Obama's spin doctor bruises hacks with 'nastygrams'

Jay Carney's combative approach has led to formal complaints about profane language
By Guy Adams

He is no Alastair Campbell.

Neither is he in quite the same league as C J Cregg, the gruff, no-nonsense spin doctor from The West Wing. But a growing proportion of White House news correspondents are starting to discover that you cross swords with Jay Carney at your peril.

Mr Carney, who became Barack Obama's press secretary in February, has taken such a combative approach to media management that senior members of the presidential press pool recently called a crisis meeting to demand that he soften his tone.

At the centre of their complaints, according to The Washington Post, are so-called "nastygrams", aggressive, critical emails sent with growing frequency by Mr Carney and his staff.

Some of the more delicate members of the press have also been upset by profane language with which they are increasingly upbraided over the telephone by government spin doctors. Their concerns were formally raised at a meeting in November between the White House Correspondents Association [WHCA] and Mr Carney's office.

According to the WHCA president, Caren Bohan, who is a reporter for Reuters, the meeting was held to discuss a series of "tense interactions" between the two sides. Several reporters interviewed by the Post claimed that the nature of official communications has become more hostile under Mr Carney.

Among them was Carl Cannon, the Washington editor of the Real Clear Politics website. He described the official reaction to his article about Mr Obama's use of the White House for his party's political fundraisers as: "a screaming, profane diatribe that lasted two or three phone calls." The incident convinced him that Mr Obama's media managers "either favour you or try to punish you, depending if they see you as friend or foe".

Julie Mason, a radio reporter, said Mr Carney used an email to brand one of her stories "partisan, inflammatory and tendentious". One of his colleagues sent her an animated picture of a crying mime artist, apparently to suggest she was whining.

Tensions in the White House press room are historically allowed to remain below the radar and the US media generally has a far less adversarial relationship with government spokesmen than their counterparts in the UK. Mr Carney told the Post that he has "good, very cordial" relations with reporters. He also attempted to deny that his occasionally fraught dealings with the Fourth Estate were worthy of coverage. "Where have you been?" he asked. "You're kind of discovering that the wheel is round here."

Friday, December 23, 2011

UK: Merry Christmas to President Obama from the House Republicans

The Independent

Republican split gives Obama a Christmas gift
By David Usborne

Another round of partisan calculation has resulted in a dearth of seasonal goodwill on Capitol Hill this year after House Republicans refused to allow a payroll tax holiday for millions of Americans – but left themselves vulnerable to angry Democrats who claimed that they were putting political advantage ahead of the national interest.

If there is one place where it's a merry Christmas it's in the White House, where Barack Obama's strategists must be cock-a-hoop at the chance to get one over on their rivals.

President Obama has delayed his annual holiday in Hawaii by four days, to nudge Congress towards a solution. More likely, though, he is staying in town to take advantage of a crisis that started on Tuesday when a compromise bill to extend the tax break for two months was unexpectedly voted down by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The narrative of this mess is not a happy one but it is easy enough for Democrats to spin. Without a deal on extending a cut in the payroll tax that is already in place but which expires on 1 January, roughly 160 million middle class Americans will lose an additional $40 a week from their weekly wage cheque. Moreover, it is clear to some that the Republicans have once again been backed into a corner on the issue by the Tea Party.

John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, is not even being spared by colleagues in the Senate who last Saturday overwhelmingly passed a bill extending the tax cut for two months, with hopes that a full-year extension will be agreed after the recess.

"Of all the ugly partisanship that has disappointed the nation this year, this latest episode will hurt hardworking Americans directly and immediately," Republican Senator Scott Brown said in a statement. Senator John McCain said the move was "harming the Republican Party" and "harming the view, if it's possible any more, of the American people about Congress".

Mr Obama startled reporters in the White House press room on Tuesday by berating the Republicans for sabotaging the deal agreed in the Senate last weekend. "Now, let's be clear: Right now, the bipartisan compromise that was reached on Saturday is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on January 1," Mr Obama declared. "It's the only one."

Some say Mr Obama's concern may only be skin deep. He "couldn't have asked politically for a bigger gift at Christmastime than how these Republicans are behaving in the House," said Bob Shrum, a veteran Democratic strategist.

Bravehearts? GOP's film buffs

One of the more surprising political moves in the battle over the payroll tax break came in a meeting of the House Republican caucus on Monday, when, the Washington Post reported, the assembled congresspeople compared their plight to that of Mel Gibson in Braveheart – and proceeded to compare notes on their favourite scenes in the movie.

About 10 Republicans spoke of the parts they remembered most vividly from the tale of William Wallace, before the gathering invoked a famous moment of collective discipline from the film by chanting: "Hold! Hold! Hold! Hold!"

South Korea: US stance towards N. Korea uncertain

Korea Times

US stance on new NK leader still uncertain

Although North Korea has already announced its new leader, many raise a hypothetical question -- if the U.S. holds summit talks with North Korea, who will be President Barack Obama's counterpart?

The U.S. government has been hesitant to directly mention Kim Jong-un, the third son of the late leader Kim Jong-il. The junior Kim, in his late 20s, has been billed by Pyongyang's state media as the "Great Successor."

Western media, quoting multiple sources, raised the possibility of a power-sharing leadership in the secretive communist nation, given Kim Jong-un's inexperience and lack of time for preparations to take the helm.

Issuing a carefully worded statement for North Koreans earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose the expression "new leadership." In daily press briefings, department officials have never named Kim Jong-un.

On Wednesday, the White House first pinpointed the reported next leader.

"Kim Jong Il had designated Kim Jong Un as his official successor, and at this time we have no indication that that has
changed," Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters in response to a question over the rumors of a collective leadership in the North.

A diplomatic source, well informed of the Seoul-Washington relations, cautioned media against attaching a special meaning to Carney's statement.

"The press secretary seems to have accidentally mentioned Kim Jong-un," the source said, requesting anonymity.

Reponding to the question, however, Carney read a press guidance, not speaking impromptu.

White House officials advised media to take Carney's wordings as they are.

"We don't have anything to add to Jay's comments," a senior White House official told Yonhap News Agency Thursday on the condition of anonymity. (WASHINGTON = Yonhap)

Australia: Congress does not win US hearts and minds

The Sydney Morning Herald

US politicians fail to impress
By Simon Mann

AMERICANS are fed up with their dysfunctional government, with just 11 per cent approving of the job being done by Congress, which is once more in the grip of deadlock, this time over the extension of a tax cut that saves middle-class families about $US1000 a year.

The rating is the lowest bestowed on the Capitol since 1974, when pollster Gallup began asking voters the question. The latest score means an average approval rating for 2011 of 17 per cent - also a record low.

At the same time, Congress' disapproval rating hit a high - 86 per cent. Ten years ago, that score was a mirror image when 84 per cent of the American public gave Congress a tick in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC.

The rising contempt of the people comes in a year during which Congress clawed its way to an 11th hour deal to raise America's debt ceiling - but still lost its AAA credit rating - and fought over nearly every significant piece of legislation.

The discord was heightened again recently when a specially appointed bipartisan super-committee failed to identify about $US1 trillion of budget savings as part of the debt deal, triggering new acrimony between Democrats and Republicans.

The 2 percentage point cut to payroll tax, which will benefit 160 million workers, will expire on January 1.

A bill extending the cut by 12 months - along with 99 weeks' benefits for long-term jobless and higher reimbursement for doctors treating government-funded Medicare patients - was passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

But Democrats objected to other aspects that were appended to the legislation, namely the easing of regulations on some industrial emissions.

After heated debate, a bipartisan compromise was stitched together in the Senate, which allowed for a temporary two-month extension that would be revisited in the new year.

UK: A win for the middle class and the President

The Guardian

House agrees payroll tax deal as Republicans cave in to Obama

John Boehner set to sign two-month extension on payroll tax cuts after pressure from president and Senate minority leader
By Ewen MacAskill

Congressional Republicans have capitulated in the showdown over the payroll tax, handing Barack Obama an important victory going into election year.

John Boehner, the House Speaker, announced a full-scale retreat on Thursday evening after days of criticism from fellow Republicans, including Karl Rove and senator John McCain, who said his actions were hurting the party.

The decisive moment came when the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, withdrew his support for Boehner and sided with the White House, calling on Republicans in the House to support a bill to extend tax breaks.

As a result of McConnell's intervention, support for Boehner crumbled. As a face-saving exercise, Boehner claimed to have secured a concession – but it is no more than a minor procedural point.

About 160m Americans will now receive their tax breaks, worth an average of $20 a week, as usual in January and February.

It was the latest in a series of battles between the White House and Republicans in Congress this year that saw threats to close down the federal government. In all of the earlier ones, Obama came off second best, but not this time.

The victory for the White House will cheer a Democratic base which has watched with frustration as Obama caved in time and again to Republican pressure.

The bill is now expected to be passed by the House on Friday morning and signed into law by Obama before heading off on holiday. The president had delayed joining his family in Hawaii until the issue was resolved.

In a statement from the White House, Obama said: "This is good news, just in time for the holidays. This is the right thing to do to strengthen our families, grow our economy, and create new jobs. This is real money that will make a real difference in people's lives."

The bill was passed by the Senate on Saturday, with the backing of both Republicans and Democrats. The two-month extension is a compromise that allows them to negotiate after the holidays on a year-long deal.

Boehner, having initially agreed to back the bill, retreated on Sunday, faced with opposition by House members allied to the Tea Party movement. They demanded, in return for support for a one-year extension of the tax cuts, a series of concessions on spending cuts and on a controversial pipeline.

On Tuesday, House Republicans effectively voted to block the bill. The Wall Street Journal, normally a solid supporter of the Republicans, in a withering editorial, accused Boehner of helping Obama win re-election in November 2012.

As part of a face-saving exercise on Thursday evening Boehner claimed that, as a result of his actins, he had managed to secure from the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, a promise to name members for a joint House-Senate conference to negotiate the year-long tax concessions.

"Senator Reid and I have reached an agreement that will ensure taxes do not increase for working families on January 1," Boehner said. Reid said he would have agreed to this anyway.

Boehner is unpopular with some of the rank-and-file members of Congress, particularly those leaning towards the Tea Party, and the tax debacle could bring closer a challenge to his leadership.

The tax breaks were introduced by Obama last year to help stimulate the US economy. If the bill was not passed by 31 December, American taxpayers face cuts in their pay of an average of $40 every two weeks and 1.3m people stand to lose unemployment benefit.

Earlier in the day, Obama, at a White House event organised to step up pressure on Boehner earlier on Thursday, described the standoff as "ridiculous", and paraded some of the 30,000 Americans who have written to the White House detailing the impact the tax rises would have on their lives. For some, the $40 is significant, meaning the loss of heating for almost half a week. For others, the impact is small but meaningful, from parents unable to take their children out for a pizza, to a man driving 200 miles a week to keep his father-in-law company in a nursing home.

McConnell's statement presented an even bigger setback for the House speaker. McConnell said working Americans "shouldn't face the uncertainty of a New Year's Day tax hike", and urged the House to pass the bill to avoid "any disruption in the payroll tax holiday".

The standoff with the House Republicans was an early Christmas gift for Obama. Democratic strategists decided months ago Obama would fight the next election portraying the Republicans as obstructionist. He took up this theme on Thursday, saying he would sign the tax bill immediately on receiving it from Congress, and the only thing stopping it was what he called a "faction" inside the Republican party.

"What's happening right now is exactly why people just get so frustrated with Washington. This is it: this is exactly why people get so frustrated," Obama said.

"This isn't a typical Democratic-versus-Republican issue. This is an issue where an overwhelming number of people in both parties agree. How can we not get that done? I mean, has this place become so dysfunctional that even when people agree to things we can't do it? It doesn't make any sense not to reach a deal."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

UK: Dysfunctional US Congress strikes again

PJ: Originally President Obama sought a twelve month payroll tax break extension in order to help the middle class who would be hardest hit when it expires. Republicans fought back, saying that in order to provide such breaks they wanted significant cuts to many social programs. The current compromise will extend those tax breaks for only two months but will be revisited prior to expiration. Even Senator Mitch McConnell supports the compromise. This is telling since the Senator has done everything in his power to defeat any proposal President Obama supports, having made the statement (immediately after Obama's inauguration) that his only purpose in the Senate was to defeat anything the President supported, making sure that President Obama was a one term president.

Makes you wonder who exactly the members of Congress serve: their party or the people?

The Guardian

McConnell breaks ranks with GOP as Obama calls for end to tax impasse

Republican leader in the Senate urges House to pass bill extending tax break as president rails at 'dysfunctional' Congress
By Ewen MacAskill

Republican disunity over the congressional tax showdown was exposed on Thursday when, in an extraordinary move, the party's leader in the Senate publicly broke ranks with his House colleagues.

After days of silence, Mitch McConnell lined up with Barack Obama and the Democrats to call for the safe passage of the payroll tax bill, instead of rallying behind his beleaguered colleague in the House, speaker John Boehner.

The rupture in the Republican party increases Obama's chances of securing a rare victory over the House Republicans, who have repeatedly humiliated him this year.

Boehner is blocking passage of a bill that would extend tax breaks to 160 million Americans, a measure introduced by Obama last year to help stimulate the US economy. If the bill is not passed by 31 December, American taxpayers face cuts in their pay of an average of $40 every two weeks. About 1.3 million people stand to lose unemployment benefit.

Obama, at a White House event organised to step up pressure on Boehner, described the standoff as "ridiculous", and paraded some of the 30,000 Americans who have written to the White House detailing the impact the tax rises would have on their lives. For some, the $40 is significant, meaning the loss of heating for almost half a week. For others, the impact is small but meaningful, from parents unable to take their children out for a pizza, to a man driving 200 miles a week to keep his father-in-law company in a nursing home.

Intent on wringing as much emotion as possible from the moment and portraying the Republicans as the party of the wealthy, Obama said: "It may be that there are some folks in the House who refuse to vote for this compromise because they don't think that $40 is a lot of money. But anyone who knows what it's like to stretch a budget knows that at the end of the week, or the end of the month, $40 can make all the difference in the world."

Boehner is increasingly isolated on the issue, criticised by Republicans from senator John McCain to party strategist Karl Rove, and one of the media's bastions of conservatism, the Wall Street Journal. They have all called on Boehner to back off, claiming he is hurting the Republican party and its chances of winning the White House next November.

But McConnell's statement presented an even bigger setback for the House speaker.

McConnell said working Americans "shouldn't face the uncertainty of a New Year's Day tax hike", and urged the House to pass the bill to avoid "any disruption in the payroll tax holiday".

The Senate on Saturday voted overwhelmingly for a deal – backed by McConnell and the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid – to extend tax cuts for two months to allow further negotiations on extending them through to the end of next year. Obama welcomed the deal.

But on Monday, House Republicans, in an unexpected about-turn, blocked it. Boehner, having reportedly reached a behind-the-scenes agreement last week with McConnell to support the bill, went into reverse, under pressure from House members close to the Tea Party movement.

The standoff with the House Republicans is turning into an early Christmas gift for Obama. Throughout this year, Boehner and his colleagues have left the president looking weak, and forced him to back down in a series of showdowns over issues including America's debt ceiling.

Grassroots Democrats repeatedly cite this supposed weakness as one of the reasons for their disappoinment with Obama. But if he can end the year with a political victory over Republicans in the House, it could help his chances of re-election next year.

Democratic strategists decided months ago Obama will fight the next election portraying the Republicans as obstructionist. He took up this theme on Thursday, saying he would sign the tax bill immediately on receiving it from Congress, and the only thing stopping it was what he called a "faction" inside the Republican party.

"What's happening right now is exactly why people just get so frustrated with Washington. This is it: this is exactly why people get so frustrated," Obama said.

"This isn't a typical Democratic-versus-Republican issue. This is an issue where an overwhelming number of people in both parties agree. How can we not get that done? I mean, has this place become so dysfunctional that even when people agree to things we can't do it? It doesn't make any sense not to reach a deal.

The president has delayed his holiday to Hawaii because of the standoff. His family left without him.

Boehner phoned Obama at the White House on Thursday morning, asking him to send an economics team to Congress to discuss the issue. Obama refused.

UK: US jobless claims fall again

The Guardian

US jobless claims lowest since 2008 – but economic growth revised down

Latest government figures suggest that the US jobs market is improving, but growth in third quarter slower than first thought
By Dominic Rushe

The number of Americans making new claims for unemployment benefits has fallen to its lowest levels since April 2008, providing more evidence that the US job market is improving.

But the good news comes as the government announced the US economy grew at a more sluggish rate during the third quarter than first thought.

The jobs figures were released as president Barack Obama faces off with Republican opponents over an extension of a payroll tax that Obama says will cost Americans $40 a paycheck and that economists say threatens to cut $120bn of disposable income in 2012.

Initial jobless claims decreased by 4,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 364,000 in the week ending 17 December, the Department of Labor said on Thursday.

The latest jobs figures come amid mixed signs of recovery in the US economy. Gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest measure of all the goods and services produced in an economy, grew at an inflation-adjusted annual rate of 1.8% in the July-to-September period. The figure was revised down from an earlier estimate of 2%.

While the number is lower, it is still the strongest performance of the year.

The downward revision was made after consumer spending was found to be weaker than first thought, rising 1.7% in the third quarter compared to a previous estimate of a 2.3% increase.

But despite the sluggish recovery, corporate profits have remained strong and the jobless numbers are falling. The latest decline in jobless claims is the third in a row, and brings new unemployment claims to their lowest levels since the week ending April 19, 2008.

Earlier this month the unemployment rate in the US fell below 9% for the first time in two years. The Federal Reserve is forecasting unemployment rates between 8.5% and 8.7% in 2012, with modest economic growth.

Ken Goldstein, economist at the Conference Board, said the numbers were encouraging, especially after positive news on the housing market earlier this week.

Housing starts – a measure of new home-building – rose 9.3% in November to their highest level in over a year, the Department of Commerce said on Tuesday.

"The figures from the housing market and the labour market indicate that we are a little bit stronger than we expected," said Goldstein. Goldstein dismissed the threat to payroll tax as "Kabuki theatre."

"It will get resolved," he said. "Unless the Republicans want to gift-wrap Obama a campaign where he can say the Republicans want to cut taxes for the rich and increase them for the middle class."

Ireland: Conservatives criticizing the president again...this time it's about the White House Christmas Card

PJ: If you look at Christmas cards from past presidents, you'll see similar images used by (conservative icon) Ronald Reagan, where winter scenes at the White House are the norm, sometimes without any other hint of the Christmas season. It should also be noted that the word 'Christmas' is not often used (

The Daily Edge

Sarah Palin criticises President Obama… over his Christmas cards

IT’S NOTHING NEW to hear the colourful and controversial former governor of Alaska criticise president Barack Obama but Sarah Palin’s latest line of attack seems a bit strange – she has taken issue with the White House Christmas card.

The front of the card shows the Obamas’ dog Bo sitting in a very Christmas setting in front of a warm fire which is decorated with wreaths and ribbons, behind him is a table full of presents.

On the inside of the card a message reads: “From our family to yours, may your holidays shine with the light of the season.” It is signed by all four of the Obamas – Barack, wife Michelle, and daughters Sascha and Malia as well as Bo himself, reports the LA Times.

But it’s not warm and pleasing holiday message to everyone.

According to Fox News Radio, the former vice presidential nominee and Tea Party favourite Palin thinks the card is “odd”. She wonders why the president’s card highlights his dog and not the traditions of ‘family, faith and freedom’.

The lack of faith in the Obamas’ holiday season cards has caused controversy before with their first White House Christmas card in 2009 containing no reference to Christmas and drawing the ire of some religious conservatives.

Palin believes that most Americans appreciate “American foundational values illustrated and displayed on Christmas cards and on a Christmas tree” but “it’s just a different way of thinking coming out of the White House.”

The Obamas did release this family portrait for the holiday season but may have missed a trick with some by not putting it on the Christmas card. Always next year…

For photos:

UK: " horrible Sarah Palin really could be..."

PJ: Sarah Palin is not really the woman that her fans want to believe that she is. Her thin resume is not an accurate depiction of her as it inflates her experience and molds it into to something of some substance of which, in reality, there is very little. John McCain, in choosing her, touted her expertise in energy but she was not and is not an energy expert. How could she be? She was a political appointment on an energy board as the 'public' member because she did not have an energy background. She then quit that position half-way through her term. (You can learn more, if you chose, by reading one of many, many articles on this subject:

Even her credentials as a fiscal conservative are distorted. She left the once fiscally healthy town of Wasilla--a town which had never had debt--deeply in the red. She also never met a federal dollar she didn't covet and hired lobbyists whose sole goal was to bring federal money into her coffers. Her fans claim that she is a great leader and a great administrator but even during her time as Mayor of a town of less than 9,000 residents, she hired a town manager to actually do all that mundane administrative stuff.

Nope...Sarah Palin is not a self-made woman like Margaret Thatcher (a comparison that Palin has encourage--she even had the audacity to contact the ailing Thatcher with the hopes of a photo-op to further the point--luckily Thatcher's people turned her down). She did not study, she did not spend years elevating herself or her party, she is not dedicated to knowledge and is not, in the true sense, a tough leader who can lead through in-dept knowledge about all situations through which she is navigating. She is, however, a clever opportunist. She was made by the McCain campaign and the media. Her dalliance with a presidential run kept the media begging for more. They covered every Facebook rant and Tweet; Fox News propped her up as an ill-informed political pundit. The media even chased her around during her political-mystery bus tour, getting spot interviews about how Paul Revere rang bells and shot guns to warn the British...wait a minute, wasn't he supposed to warn the colonists?!

And what Mr. Broomfield discovered during the making (and after) of his documentary about her, is that she is not even that 'nice' down-to-earth lady that her fans adore.

The Telegraph

Nick Broomfield: ‘I didn’t realise how horrible Sarah Palin really could be’
Nick Broomfield tells Jasper Rees about the film he set out to make about the contentious politician Sarah Palin.

Nick Broomfield once made a film about an S&M parlour in which masochists queued up to be whipped, flayed and generally stomped upon. Watching a film like Sarah Palin: You Betcha! (showing on More4 on December 27), it’s hard not to wonder whether Broomfield doesn’t suffer from the same kind of pathology. Surely it takes a masochist to travel to Wasilla, the tight-knit snowbound wellspring of Alaska’s most infamous export, in pursuit of an interview you can tell from the start is never going to happen.

“I didn’t really know that much about her,” the celebrated documentary maker claims in that faux-naif, poker-faced style he has made his trademark. “I remember being kind of blown away when she got up on that stage with all those kids and gave that rather brilliant speech which seemed to be an enormous breath of fresh air for the Republican Party. I don’t think she’d revealed just how horrible she could really be. To that extent I think I had a fairly open mind.”

The title of the film refers to the reply Broomfield extracts from Palin when, about three weeks into the shoot, he flies to a book signing in Texas and, filming surreptitiously, requests an interview. “You betcha,” says Palin. Even her parents seem forthcoming to start with. “That was luck. The mother had said, ‘You’ll have to go through Todd.’ Going through Todd [Palin’s husband] is like trying to break into Fort Knox. And then I called again and just happened to get the father who was obviously in a jolly mood and he said, ‘Oh come over now.’ So we did a ski-turn in the snow and zoomed back there at 150 mph.”

Palin’s father grows progressively more withdrawn and embarrassed about his goof as it occurs to him that Broomfield might be brewing up a hatchet job. In truth, this turns out to be Broomfield’s only option in a town where, it emerges, the Palins divisively regard anyone who is not their friend as their enemy – and only their enemies will talk to him. Broomfield’s interviewees include a lot of former friends and colleagues who have been cast out, cold-shouldered and vilified. “It was impossible to be a part of this teeny community without speaking to someone they didn’t approve of.”

Broomfield throws himself through all his signature narrative hoops – goofily trespassing into shot, absurdly clad in headphones, holding a furry-headed boom microphone, and making a feature of all the obstacles in his way. Off camera his assistant fared much worse: roughed up by guards at a Palin rally; detained, cuffed and forced to wear an orange jumpsuit for having the wrong visa.

“Our entry was supposed to be discreet and hush-hush,” says Broomfield. “We couldn’t have arrived with more noise if an elephant had parachuted from a plane into Wasilla. You carry on with the film and you try to look at other things.” What emerges is a chilling portrait of a vengeful, narrow-minded evangelical, who appears ill-suited to government but skilled in political street-fighting and who might, had the American electorate been so inclined, been a heartbeat away from the most powerful job on Earth. You Betcha! belongs squarely in Broomfield’s canon of films about subjects which should have told Todd Palin all he needed to know: apartheid-defending totem Eugène Terre’Blanche, Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, serial killer Aileen Wuornos. And yet Broomfield still deeply regrets that he didn’t finally corner his quarry.

“I did spend three months trying to get the interview so it was frustrating. I actually thought we would pull it off but it was probably naive to think that. Maybe I was hoping at one point to find a lucid moment where she would open up. When you do get those revelations, they are moments of gold and they make the rest of the agony worth it.”

The film is nonetheless extraordinarily compelling. When Broomfield started, Palin had not yet ruled herself out of the presidential race. “It would have had more immediate relevance,” he admits. But Palin being as indestructible as Broomfield is irrepressible, the story’s not over. You Betcha! is a fire warning in respect of the choice that may yet be placed before the American electorate. So Broomfield needn’t beat himself up. Unless of course he’s enjoying it.